Monday, November 26, 2007

Barry Lamar Bonds – up next the media and the Mitchell Report

This could be one of the biggest weeks in Major League Baseball history. Reports suggest Senator George Mitchell’s much anticipated investigation into the use of performance-enhancement drugs among Major League Baseball players will be unveiled in the coming days. Suggestions that as many as 11 different current Major League Baseball current free agent players will be named in the report if true could shake the core of MLB to its foundation. But will Barry Bonds name be among those included in the report and if so what conclusive proof will the former United States Senator and member of the Boston Red Sox Board of Directors offer relating to Bonds? Regardless of whether or not Bonds’ name is included by Senator Mitchell, Bonds indictment on federal perjury charges before the Thanksgiving weekend holiday will continue to be the media’s focus when it relates to substance abuse among baseball players.

Since Bonds was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice on November 15, the media’s full frontal assault has continued seemingly unabated. But in what could be an important trend to note – the media in a series of op-ed pieces in various newspapers has been holding not only Bonds accountable for his actions, but has begun to question where the culpability of Major League Baseball (the Lords of the Diamond) lies within the Barry Bonds saga.

“It has been evident for years that some of the game's biggest stars have been swelling up with new muscle mass and acquiring more home-run power in their 30s than they had in their 20s. So why did Major League Baseball shrug off this perverting of the national pastime? (Full disclosure: The Globe's parent company is a part-owner of the Red Sox.)

“The commissioner and his water carriers say they could do nothing about the problem without proof. And the players' union, acting with a myopic kind of self-interest, fought against drug testing for its members. But the union was not protecting the true interests of the players. Eventually, the devil comes to collect his due. A witches' brew of steroids and hormones can destroy the health of an athlete seeking a shortcut to greatness. Each steroid user made his own bad decision, but in response to powerful incentives.

“For its part, the corporate establishment that is Major League Baseball traduced its own history and betrayed its integrity by selling something other than the team's collective competition in a pennant race. The owners sold home run records instead. They peddled individual achievements by grotesquely enlarged stars who had more in common with figures in a circus sideshow than with the great players of times past.

“The marketers of baseball sowed false values, and now they're reaping phony achievements in the record books. They got what they deserve. They perjured the game”

That from The Boston Globe (company that also owns The New York Times and a small percentage of the Boston Red Sox). Since the Globe became part of John Henry’s ownership group when Henry paid $700 million for the Red Sox in December 2001, the Globe has always separated their role as a member of the media and as part owner of a Major League Baseball franchise. The Globe calling out the Lords of the Diamond as strongly as they did when the news broke regarding Barry Bonds might indicate when the Mitchell report is released the Globe (and possibly the Times) will take a very tough stance against MLB and appear certain to hold MLB commissioner Bud Selig accountable.

The Philadelphia Inquirer asked an even better question – should Barry Bonds be singled out?

“Why has the Justice Department spent so much time and tax dollars on this case? Baseball is a game, not life or death. Don't the feds have anything more pressing to do, like track down terrorists, drug dealers or white-collar crooks?

“Bonds was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice regarding his testimony on steroid use. Steroids are illegal, and lying to a grand jury is a crime that shouldn't be tolerated. But Bonds shouldn't be the main target of so much attention.

“If anyone should be indicted, it is Major League Baseball for enabling and rewarding steroid use. Not to mention the fans and media who for years celebrated the show provided by bulked-up batters and pitchers who never got tired.

“Bonds can be prickly. But being a jerk isn't a crime. This case illustrates how justice isn't equal for all. If the feds are going to prosecute Bonds, they need to investigate and prosecute every other ball player suspected of taking steroids. That's a long list.”

The Inquirer makes a great point, but here’s an even better one. The trail of Grand Juries that failed to indict Barry Bonds has been well documented. All told, according to an ESPN report, the Federal Government has already spent $6 million to prosecute Barry Bonds. That’s $6 million and the trial has yet to begin. It’s conceivable that by the time Barry Bonds trial ends, the cost to American taxpayers could exceed $10 million. Does it make sense to make an example of Barry Bonds by spending $10 million to prove if he lied 19 times during a December 2003 Grand Jury hearing into BALCO?

Lets be clear about this point, it wasn’t illegal to use steroids in the United States of America until 2004 (it was illegal to sell them). And Major League Baseball didn’t have a comprehensive testing policy that dealt with performance-enhancing drugs until 2004. Barry didn’t break any laws if he used steroids before the 2004 baseball season. As for rules of baseball, the allegations Bonds is facing, if proven true would certainly paint him as being unethical, but again he broke the rules of baseball that didn’t exist at the time. Those rules exist today, but they weren’t in place when Bonds is alleged to have used steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

The Orlando Sentinel’s editorial stance – lets call it as it is, and where it is, Major League Baseball has to bear their share of the responsibility.

“The indictment is a sad day for baseball, for sure. But it is a day that ought never to have arrived. Major League owners, the players union and Commissioner Bud Selig ignored the rising problem of performance-enhancing drugs for years. As Mr. Bonds and others grew to freakish proportions and smashed records, baseball cared only about soaring revenues.

“Now the evidence may confirm what most people already believe: Baseball's home-run record -- perhaps the most hallowed record in sports -- is held by a cheater.

“The fans deserved better, from Mr. Bonds and Major League Baseball.”

In last Monday’s (November 19, 2007) Insider, the issue of Barry Bonds responsibility if he in fact has lied (remember we’re still dealing with allegations that need to be proven in a court of law) but what did Major League Baseball know when it came to the use of performance-enhancing drugs? Major League Baseball loved the 1998 home run single season home run derby Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa embarked on helping to revive the league and moving baseball forward as a business. The Lords of the Diamond had better ask themselves what they knew or didn’t know. And what impact did the 1998 MLB and Bonds assault on the single season record in 2001 have on helping MLB generate $6.07 billion in total revenues in 2007?

Not all of the sampling of newspapers op-ed pieces being looked at in today’s Insider Report hold both MLB and Bonds accountable. Several of the newspaper editorials either choose not to look at the role MLB played in the Bonds story or decided to wait until the release of the Mitchell Report later this week. The San Jose Mercury News took Bonds to task but still saved some of its venom for MLB.

“The controversy over (Barry) Bonds' possible use of steroids began in the spring of 1998, when he returned from the off season, at the age of 34, with a newly sculpted body. It appeared that in a matter of months he had gained 20-25 pounds of pure muscle.

“He promptly began swatting home runs at a pace he never achieved during what is considered to be a baseball player's peak years of performance - between the ages of 28 and 32. Then, at the age of 36, when most players' skills are seriously eroding, he broke McGwire's single-season home run record, hitting homers at a pace never seen before in baseball history.

“Two years later, in the fall of 2003, while Bonds was beginning to close in on baseball's most cherished record - Hank Aaron's all-time home run mark - he was called to testify before a federal grand jury in the wake of the Burlingame Balco scandal.

“Bonds repeatedly denied using steroids or human growth hormone. But the federal indictment specifically says Bonds tested positive for anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

“Regardless of whether the federal government has sufficient evidence to convict Bonds, it should be clear by now that Major League Baseball and its players have done the game a great disservice. Their refusal to face up to the impact of the pervasive use of steroids has destroyed the average fan's faith that the players are competing on a level playing field.

“Baseball officials and the players union effectively buried their heads in the sand as profits and ticket sales soared along with the increased home run totals.”

And then there is a matter of what to do with Barry Bonds’ records. Bonds now holds the MLB career home run record, but for those who have chosen to ignore this, Bonds’ 73 home runs also represent the single season home run record. And if anyone wants to take away Bonds records, would it be fair to revert back to the 70 home runs Mark McGwire hit in 1998? And if McGwire’s records are to be tossed aside, is Roger Maris’ 61 home run season set in 1961 going to be the single season record? The Maris family was very much a part of McGwire’s assault on the single season record. The Maris family was in St. Louis on September 8, 1998 helping Big Mac celebrate his moment in time. Does anyone believe the Maris family is going to put time back into a Bottle and live through that experience again?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (the home of Bud Selig and where Hank Aaron began and ended is MLB career) needless to say didn’t come to Bonds’ defense, but did seemingly remember Selig their native son.

”Even if Bonds is found innocent of the charges, the publicity from the trial, as well as the indictment itself, which revealed "positive tests for the presence of steroids and other performance-enhancing substances by Bonds and other professional athletes," will have further sullied his reputation and that of baseball.

“But as arrogant as Bonds has been about this whole affair, the culpability isn't only his.

“For far too long, Major League Baseball dragged its feet, and when it finally got down to confronting the issue head-on, the players' union threw up hurdles until the U.S. Senate turned up the heat and forced the union to capitulate.

“Unfortunately, as the Bonds case has so dramatically shown, the new policy on performance-enhancing drugs and other substances, widely acknowledged as the toughest in pro sports, came too late. If Bonds is found guilty, baseball will have to pick up the razor-sharp glass shards.

“That challenging and thankless job will fall to Commissioner Bud Selig. While many fans will no doubt ask that Bonds' record be stricken, the more practical alternative probably would be to attach an asterisk behind Bonds' name and record.

“Either way, it will be a painful moment for baseball and especially for Selig, who can otherwise point with pride to the many accomplishments during his tenure.”

On March 30, 2006 Selig announced former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell -- and then and now a director of the Boston Red Sox would lead an inquiry into the use of performance-enchantment drugs in MLB. For those who may have forgotten the probe originally was only going to focus on events since September 2002, when the sport first began testing for performance-enhancing drugs, but Mitchell had the authority to expand it. Sometime this week the results of the report are expected to be announced. Stand by baseball fans; it’s going to be a rough ride, one you’re not going to want to miss.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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